Benin Kingdom

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Benin Kingdom peoples



H. 43 cm (16 15/16”)

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 48.36.40

Photo by Dirk Bakker


This plaque shows isiokuo (a war ritual) in honor of the god of war and iron, Ogun. An acrobatic amufi (dance) is represented, recalling a legendary war against the sky (Eyo and Willett 1980: 137). In the top of the tree are three ibises or “birds of disaster.” The birds refer to a story about one of the great warrior kings, Esigie. As he was going to war against his enemy, the Igala, the ibis cried out that disaster lay ahead. Instead of heeding the warning, Esigie had the bird killed and “proclaimed that ‘whoever wishes to succeed in life should not heed the bird of prophecy’” (Girshick Ben-Amos 1995: 35). Esigie had the brass casters make a staff in the image of the bird to commemorate the event, and these staffs continue to be used in the festival Ugie Oro, honoring each king’s dead father.